It has been a long road to justice, which has eventually been meted out to the victims of the Srebrenica massacre in the mid-1990s. And it has happened more than two decades after the butchery that shocked the conscience of the world, five years after the trial began, and on the basis of evidence furnished by no fewer than 600 witnesses. Ratko Mladic ~ the “butcher of Bosnia” ~ has met his nemesis with the life imprisonment pronounced by a UN tribunal at The Hague for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Forty-six years after 1971, the charges are faintly reminicent of the events in East Pakistan. The verdict reaffirms that the “wheels of justice grind slowly” and remarkably prompt has been the warning advanced by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein to “other perpetrators” ~ “They will not escape justice, no matter how powerful they may be nor how long it may take. They will be held accountable.” Which assurance affords a measure of hope to the persecuted Rohingyas of Myanmar and to the families of the genocide victims in Bangladesh, not to forget the hundreds killed in Syria more recently. This is the thread that links Bangladesh to Bosnia via Myanmar. From one century to another, there is no full stop to ethnic cleansing, no lessening of the savagery of man’s inhumanity to man.
The trial of the former Bosnian Serb commander at the international criminal tribunal for former Yugoslavia coupled with Wednesday’s verdict do symbolise a watermark in terms of international justice for mass crimes. Though the chief perpetrators of genocide in the Balkans have been convicted, there are many more among the guilty who walk free. With the imminent closure of the Hague tribunal, the task of prosecution now lies with courts in the respective countries, a prospect that cannot readily inspire hope and confidence. The outlook is grim and the uncertainty can be contextualised with the warning of prosecutor Serge Brammertz that regional judicial cooperation in war crimes justice is “heading in the wrong direction” and that “the message of denial and revisionism is loud and clear … y our war criminals are our heroes”. The light may be flickering, but it ought never to be extinguished. Justice in Bosnia or the capital punishment awarded in Bangladesh earlier this week cannot bring back the dead or erase trauma. Two decades later, the world must listen to the survivors and the victims’ families… and to Bosnian Muslims generally. The hunt for Mladic took 14 years and at times seemed almost hopeless.
The fact that he could be brought to the dock and convicted is testament to the tenacity and commitment that marked his trial and conviction. And the “epitome of international justice” shall not be denuded with Mladic’s outrageous cry in court ~ “This is all lies, you are all liars.” Truth has prevailed.